Good Practice Reviews
No. 9 March 2004
Disaster risk reduction: mitigation and preparedness in aid programming
Natural disasters – disasters resulting from natural hazards such as cyclones, droughts, floods, earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions – are widespread and numerous in developing and middle-income countries. They can cause great loss of life and immense damage to communities, infrastructure and national economies. Ethical, humanitarian considerations oblige us to act to protect human life and prevent suffering. Many researchers and aid institutions have identified natural disasters as a major threat to sustainable development.
This Good Practice Review aims to help project planners and managers to:
- appreciate the significance of hazards (primarily natural hazards) and the risks associated with them;
- appreciate the need for risk management in project planning and implementation, and the value of such efforts;
- recognise the main issues that must be understood and addressed when carrying out risk reduction or disaster mitigation and preparedness initiatives; and
- understand – at least in broad terms – how to address these issues in practice, throughout the project cycle.
It is easy to be intimidated by the scale and extent of the problem, and the variety of counter-risk approaches that can be taken.
But lasting protection against disasters will not be reached overnight. It is a long-term goal to be attained through a continuous process of improvement. Community resilience to hazards can be built up incrementally over time, as long as the basic approach is sound.
This Review is above all a practical document. However, it is not a manual. Its emphasis is on the process of planning and implementing risk reduction initiatives. It focuses on key issues and decision points and how to address them. Readers are referred to more detailed technical manuals and studies where appropriate. It has been difficult to present a balanced coverage of such a broad and diverse subject, and there are inevitable gaps. Nevertheless, the book is evidence-based. The descriptions and discussions are supported by case studies, which aim to give a sense of the range and diversity of practical approaches that can be used.
Novib (Oxfam Netherlands) uses strategic risk management. Below is a set of Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about Novib’s use of risk principles in grant appraisal. Novib emphasises the positive risks, which is a departure from more traditional risk management as used by HPN.
In addition to grant appraisal, Novib uses the risk methodology in a variety of other ways:
- Managing the grantee portfolio.
- Selecting countries and prioritising themes for funding.
- Selecting other social actors such as corporations and local government with whom to cooperate in campaigning, advocacy and special projects.
- Appraising grant requests for small amounts (less than $10,000), or one-off and short-term (under a year) funding.
- Evaluating regional and country programmes.
- Evaluating grant requests in cases of natural disaster and emergency.
Through all these applications, Novib has learned that, while the principles of risk management are relatively straightforward, their application is quite complex. For the first time, between August 2003 and March 2004, Novib invested in field training for all programme and financial officers and their managers – almost 100 people.
Within the wider Oxfam family, the risk methodology has been used to assess the potential for a joint advocacy programme in Angola between Intermón and Oxfam GB. At Intermón headquarters in Barcelona, Oxfam supported a project to analyse the opportunities and risks for the core theme of empowerment. In each of the cases where these principles have been applied, it was necessary to create a distinct opportunity and risk assessment instrument. The HPN manual will of course be useful for this.
In the near future, Novib will be doing more to introduce risk management to its counterparts within Oxfam and more broadly. Novib has run Strategic Risk Thinking workshops for the managers of its Somali and Pakistani counterparts.
Ricardo Wilson-Grau, Novib